Guy Carbonneau has gone from the promising coach of the Montreal Canadiens and a Jack Adams finalist with a contract extension to getting fired in less than three years time.
During a Monday night press conference, Canadiens general manager and interim head coach Bob Gainey said that of all the decisions that he's made, hiring Carbonneau to coach the Habs was his best.
So what happened in such a short period of time?
Last year, it seemed as if Carbonneau could do no wrong.
The Canadiens were playing up to their potential and ended the 2008 season in first place. But specific moves by the GM hurt the team, particularly the decision by Gainey to trade his veteran goalie Cristobal Huet away to Washington for a draft pick.
This move forced Montreal to place Carey Price, a 20-year-old kid at the time, as the team's No. 1 goalie. Carey didn't seem overmatched until the intensity turned up and the playoffs began.
First, it was Boston. It took seven games for Montreal to dispatch the Bruins, and Price's glove seemed to be letting him down too often. After first round success, Montreal faced Philadelphia who dumped the Canadiens in five games.
It was a disappointing loss, but the team looked like they would recover, communicating the attitude of, "Oh well, we will continue from here into 2009, our anniversary year, and win the Stanley Cup."
The Canadiens started the 2009 season strong and looked good until the all-star break. A number of new players brought in to supply energy, including Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang, were doing a great job revving the team up for a playoff run.
Lang in particular was excellent. He was leading the team in scoring until his season-ending injury. Tanguay was hurt also and is just now coming back with 16 games left.
Being the coach of an NHL team is never a secure position. A few slips here and there and it's "don't let the door hit you on the way out."
This was a particularly harsh dismissal for two reasons: Carbonneau was a very fine player for the Habs, and he is a close friend of Gainey's, which I'm sure made it even harder for both of these gentlemen.
In less than one year, the Canadiens plunged from first to fifth in the standings. In 2008, Montreal was the No. 1 power play club in the league and dropped from 12th to 16th in Goals Against Average.
2009 has been tough for scoring also. Right now, the Canadiens are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race—not exactly rock solid. Carolina, with the same number of points, 77, and Pittsburgh at 76 are neck-in-neck.
Montreal, with 77 points, has to either go ahead and start winning a good amount of the 16 remaining games or risk falling out of the playoffs altogether.
The Habs could shift from fifth to ninth in the blink of an eye. Can Gainey get them on track? We shall see. The last time that he fired a coach and took over behind the bench, they made the playoffs but didn't last long.
I am a big fan of Carbonneau, and I must say that I'm very disappointed with this decision. But from what I have read and heard, he was too soft with his players and found it hard to discipline them and get certain individuals into gear.
Gainey is a very soft-spoken gentleman as well, but seems to have a different demeanor behind the bench than Carbonneau. With Don Lever coming in from Hamilton, this could light a fire under this Canadiens team, especially those who came up under his tutelage as drafted players through the Montreal system.
I know head coaches come and go, and that there were many Habs fans out there who wanted to throw Carbonneau under the bus long before now. So far, the bench coaches are staying along with Lever's promotion, so we shall soon see what the outcome of this move to fire Carbonneau will be.
Let’s hope that they play up to their potential and we have a repeat of 1993. Anything is possible.
But is it realistic?
You can answer that, Habs fans, and I'm sure many of you will.
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